Monday, February 20, 2006

This site has moved

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

We have a verdict

Thanks for all the great suggestions about a title for a new blog. But I happened across a potential title this weekend that I'm really excited about. The title of my post from 2/13 reminded me that I'd seen that phrase somewhere else recently and I went looking through my email archives. Sure enough, I found three short words that explain in greater detail than I could with 50 posts where I am in my life right now. Here's the story:

A couple weeks ago I was emailing with a friend who I've known since college. We're really more "acquaintances" than "friends" now since our friendship mainly revolved around our mutual penchant for blowing our money on overpriced drinks downtown. One of the other things we had in common was our great distaste for religion, particularly Christians. We'd muster up our most condescending voices when talking about the "religious right" and "those family values people" and shared many laughs at the expense of Christianity. At one point we formed a close bond in our mutual horror and disgust that someone in our circle of friends had joined a church and wasn't interested in going out with us anymore.

In our recent email exchange I declined brunch plans on the grounds of going to Mass. (I would have loved to see the look on her face when she read that email). I got a quick reply asking who was pressuring me into going, my mom or my husband or what? I typed out a vague reply about just kind of, you know, sort of liking Mass a little bit every now and then. And then I deleted those words and wrote the truth: that I'm no longer an atheist and that the Catholic church is one of the best things that's ever happened to me. She replied with just three words, "Et tu, Jen?"

When I Googled the original Shakespearian phrase ("Et tu, Brute?") to make sure I understood its meaning I found an explanation that's so rife with symbolism that I immediately knew that it would be the title of my new site:

Perhaps the most famous three words uttered in literature, "Et tu, Brute?" (Even you, Brutus?) this expression has come down in history to mean the ultimate betrayal by one's closest friend. This scene, in which the conspirators in the Senate assassinate Caesar, is one of the most dramatic moments on the Shakespearean stage.

The audience has just witnessed the arrogance and hubris of a ruler who has sought, within a republic, to become a monarch, comparing himself to the gods. Brutus, a friend of Caesar and yet a man who loves Rome (and freedom) more, has joined the conspirators in the assassination, a betrayal which is captured by the three words above. [from]

I'd explain exactly why this is symbolic but I don't think Blogger has enough server space. Instead I'll just point you to my new site. To quote my atheist friend, "Et tu, Jen?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A question about Mary

I happened to flip through Lesley Hazleton's book Mary the other day (not my normal reading material, long story there) and came across the following passage that tries to make the linguistic case that concept of the virgin conception was a simple case of mistranslation and misunderstanding, and that the Holy Mother was possibly a rape victim. I've heard this argument before but don't know what the Church's response is. Something tells me it's not, "Dude, we totally missed that! Thank you, feminist author, for pointing out what some of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization have missed for 2,000 years."

Can anyone give me a summary of the counter-argument to this theory, or to a book that would address it?

Here's a passage from Hazleton's book:

The original Hebrew uses the word alma, which referred to any unmarried woman...Matthew uses the Greek word parthenos, which generally meant physical virginity. The difference in meaning was not exactly Matthew's fault. The Hebrew bible had been translated into Greek three hundred years earlier. That edition, known as the Septuagint...was the one the Matthew author would have used.

It may be convenient to argue that parthenos meant a physical virgin, but that was not always the case. The word was also used for a girl who had been raped or was an unmarried mother. Faced with an evident pregnancy and no known father, the language allowed for there having been no father at all, despite the physical evidence. In short, prthenos was an ancient euphemism.

She goes on to say that referring to unwed mothers as "virgins" was common practice back in the day.

This classic tome also includes a graphic description of what it was probably like when Mary was raped, and a mention that Mary was probably skilled in the ways of abortion and considered that as an option. (With this sort of content I'm shocked it didn't get a Pulitzer.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Et tu, Rachael?

Alas, even Rachel Ray doesn't seem to be immune to the slut-chic trend that's omnipresent in our society (for those of you who aren't familiar with the perky Food Channel host, bio here). Is there no young female celebrity who won't strip down to her bra and panties and lick inanimate objects in the name of a little extra publicity?

I guess I shouldn't be, but I'm really surprised that Rachel Ray did this shoot for FHM (especially that she's recently married). I can just imagine the conversation between her and her publicist.

PUBLICIST: I booked you for a photo shoot. It's set in a kitchen.

RACHAEL: Great! What should I pretend to cook to best represent my skills? Maybe baked goods? Or something grilled?

PUBLICIST: Actually, we were thinking of something more along the lines of you licking a phallic kitchen appliance. And maybe bending over in a short skirt wearing only your bra while taking something out of the oven.

RACHAEL: Hmm...but I'm a chef, not a stripper--

PUBLICIST: How do you expect people to be interested in your show and what you do if you don't show off your body? Speaking of which, how about doing the Rachel's Valentine's Day Special in nothing but a lace teddy?

It's not all that surprising when vapid Hollywood starlets take the ho route and end up half-dressed in Maxim and FHM, but it's really depressing when women who have some actual talent and don't *need* to make money off of exposing themselves end up in their bras and panties in front of a photographer.

Our society is really starting to get to me. Sometimes I think I need be a hermit.

Because it's true

I recently met up with one of my husband's good friend's wives. I don't know Mai very well but was happy to have the opportunity to hang out with her for a day and get to know her better.

One of the things I couldn't wait to ask her about was her religious choices. Like me, she was raised pretty much without religion. Her dad is agnostic and her mom is Buddhist, but neither of them ever talked about religion much. While she was in school at a notoriously liberal Ivy League college she decided to convert to the Eastern Orthodox faith. (I think it's safe to say that she may be the only person ever at this school to go in agnostic and come out Eastern Orthodox).

As we ate cucumber sandwiches outside and watched the kids play in the yard last week I asked her how on earth she ended up choosing Christianity. Why not Buddhism? It seems like she would have been drawn to that since Buddhism is the hot "spirituality" on college campuses right now, and it's extra-cool that her mother, who is of Vietnamese descent, is the real thing. It seems like that would be a very tempting path for a college student exploring her religious beliefs.

I expected a lengthy intellectual discourse on the sociopsychological merits of the various schools of thought in modern religion, but the simplicity of her answer caught me off guard.

"I did explore Buddhism first," she said with a shrug. "But it's not true."

Seeing that I expected a bit more of an answer, she elaborated, "As soon as I started looking into Christianity I saw that it spoke the truth. The things it teaches about God, the meaning of life, what the afterlife is like, etc. were to me just obviously more accurate than what Buddhism taught. If one religion is telling you that two plus two equals five and another tells you that two plus two equals four, you go with the latter."

She went on to explain how she ended up with the Orthodox church as opposed to the other branches of Christianity, but I was stuck thinking about her simple answer to my question.

I realized that that was pretty much why I had chosen this route too. For all the doubts that still linger, I have yet to encounter another religious worldview (including atheism) that was a better fit for explaining life as I know it. And the more I research the historicity of the New Testament, the actions of the early Church Fathers and even the history of the Church the more I think that these people are telling the truth.

I think I've been overanalyzing a lot of the issues I have with my beliefs right now. In all my mental thrashing around and self-analysis I've lost sight of the big picture. Every time I get lost in thought, frustrated that I still have doubts, that I haven't seen any concrete proof of God's existence, I should take a moment to ask myself why I'm still even bothering to explore this religion. After all, back in my "open-minded" days (read: open-minded to everything except for Christianity) I explored a variety of different belief systems but never stuck with any one. So why now do I go to Mass every Sunday; spend way too much time updating this blog; bend over backwards to find time in my schedule to read Lewis, Chesterton, Geisler, Groeschel and all the other Christian authors whose books have overtaken my bookshelf? If my doubts are so deep and so strong then why am I devoting more and more time from my busy schedule every day to pursue Christian thought and activities?

Because I think it's true.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I keep waiting for one of my commenters to finally tire of my ramblings and just write, "Maybe you should get into an RCIA class instead of pestering us with all these elementary level Catholicism questions!"

For those of you who might be wondering why I talk so much about how strongly I'm drawn to the Catholic church yet I haven't mentioned anything about starting RCIA, I can explain:

Unfortunately, it looks like I've got a loooong wait before I'm officially Catholic. (It might be for the best anyway since I'd feel weird about becoming Catholic when I'm not even totally sure if I believe in God at this point.) Evidently there was one guy at my church who was the heart and soul of the RCIA and other new member programs, and he recently had to move out of state for his wife's job. So the organization is reeling right now, everybody working overtime to take over his workload and try to figure out how to replace him. They are not currently offering new RCIA classes and can't even give me an answer about when they will start offering the classes again since they haven't found a replacement for him yet.

We've been toying with the idea of just doing RCIA at another parish but have decided against it. We want to get to know people at this church, and I don't particularly like any of the other churches around here. So it'll at least be a few more months until I get that ball rolling.

So, in the meantime, I appreciate my readers allowing me to use this blog as my Catholicism/God 101 class.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Running errands just got a lot more fun

My city now has Relevant Radio. How sweet is that? It's really surprising considering that my city isn't all that big, and it's very liberal (I think it's a local law that you're required to listen to Air America and NPR around here).

The only downside is that now my husband is trying to get stuck in traffic on the way to work. :)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ups and downs -- more problems with prayer

You know, this whole process would be a lot easier if I could just have some Constantine-style flaming cross in the sky message and just be completely assured of God's presence, never to doubt again. (Maybe I should change the name of this blog to The Lazy Atheist). I know, I'm confusing almighty God with a cheap parlor magician who does neat tricks for my amusement again, but I've been thrown back into a period of frustration and doubt recently that's bumming me out and just wanted to take a moment to whine that I wish this were easier. :)

There are a few things going on, but the main issue (again) is prayer. I've been following Colleen's suggestion and using the Lord's Prayer as my guide. I've tried to not focus on specifics based on what I think I need (e.g. "please don't let us lose this client"), but rather praying for divine guidance to help me see what God wants me to do in this situation. (A follow-up to the post Colleen commented on: sure enough, the client left us. And it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to our business.)

After praying in this manner for a few weeks I was very surprised at how well it was going. I truly felt like my prayers were being answered -- God was very clearly guiding me to new insights and perspectives that would have never occurred to me on my own!

...And then there was that annoying materialist voice in the back of my head telling me that I was just seeing what I wanted to see and becoming like "one of those Christians" who fabricated religious experiences to make themselves feel better (the way I used to see all Christians). But I was so happy and the experiences I was having seemed so clearly to be answers to my prayers that I was actually able to ignore that snippy little voice.

And then while watching the Superbowl yesterday I decided to thumb through my copy of Fr. John Hardon's Catholic Catechism to see what it had to say about an issue that had been troubling me lately: what is and is not the will of God. I didn't exactly find the answer to my question, but I came across this passage about prayer:

With human intercession we seek to inform another person of our wants, and then to sway his will on our behalf. Obviously neither of these considerations applies when we make our petitions to God. Our intention is not to divulge our needs and hopes, for God knows all things. Nor can the divine will be persuaded to alter a decision...Prayer is necessary for our sake, to make us reflect on our great needs and arouse our wills to desire what God wishes us to have.

We might add that God has foreseen our prayers from eternity and thus included them in his plan for the universe, to give us (and others) what he knew we would ask for. [emphasis mine]

Maybe it shouldn't have, but that passage took the wind out of my sails about the whole prayer thing. The part about God having seen our prayers from eternity and included it in his plan gave me a headache so I didn't dwell on it too much. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the whole free will vs. God's plan concept, e.g. that if I decide to let a coin toss determine whether or not I pray today, that the outcome of the toss was part of God's plan and my prayers will be answered (or not answered if the toss lands in favor of not praying) accordingly. That's baffling to me so I'll move on to what I found to be the most troubling part of the passage:

I interpreted the passage to say that a) prayer is not for expressing your needs and wants to God and b) God is not going to do anything based on your prayers since his plan is already laid out; prayer is really just a mental exercise for you to remember who's in charge here. That annoying voice in the back of my head was quick to point out that if the purpose of prayer is just "to make us reflect on our great needs and arouse our wills to desire what God wishes us to have," then my prayers over the past few weeks have not really been answered. What I thought was the hand of God guiding me to see things I had not seen before was really just me using the meditative time of prayer to figure things out for myself.

If I'm interpreting this correctly I guess I could get used to the idea that prayer never results in action on God's part, but that's a whole lot less comforting than what I originally perceived the purpose of prayer to be.

Am I misinterpreting this part of the Catechism? How do most religious people (particularly Catholics) perceive that prayer works? I've heard a lot of people talk about prayer in a cause-and-effect sort of way ("my prayers were answered!") -- were they all mistaken?



OK, I just re-read this after I posted it and I can see that the second paragraph of the passage I quoted is indeed encouraging. It seems to be saying that God does answer our prayers...sort of...but it's different since he knew what we were going to ask for and already had it hopefully you're asking for what was in his plan...although he knew you were going to ask that so maybe he incorporated it into his plan.

Maybe this issue here is that I need to think a bit more about the fact that God doesn't work in the cause-and-effect sort of way that we humans do since he already has the universe all planned out.